How to handle the 4-month sleep regression


By Jolandi Becker – MD of Good Night

The 4-month sleep regression is often a talking point as one of the most well-known and dreaded sleep regressions by far. However, from a sleep consultant’s perspective it is something to celebrate.

What is a sleep regression?
A sleep regression is a period where your baby/toddler sleeps worse than normal. The worse sleep might entail struggling to fall asleep or waking up more than usual at night. It might also mean being awake for extended periods of time at bedtime or throughout the night. How long it lasts depends on the age of your child.

Why do sleep regressions happen?
Sleep regressions are caused by development. Mental, physical or emotional development are factors that depend on the age of baby/toddler. Thus when your baby/toddler is growing (which is most of the time) this consequent development can disrupt their sleep for various reasons.

As mentioned before, the 4-month-old sleep regression is the most significant regression from a sleep perspective. Very important mental development happens. Between 12 and 16 weeks, sleep cycles start forming, which consequently means that memory starts forming. This in turn means that sleep associations that previously assisted with sleep (like feeding to sleep/rocking to sleep, etc.) can start having a negative effect on sleep. That means that suddenly, your sleeping angel that only woke once a night for a feed, now suddenly starts waking multiple times either for a feed, or for whatever sleep association they need to link their sleep cycles.

When does it happen?

Like any development milestone, the regression does NOT happen exactly on the day your baby turns 4 months but could happen anywhere between 3 and 5 months.

How long does it last?

Unfortunately, it could last anywhere from days to weeks to years, and more often than not if changes are NOT made this could be permanent regression. Luckily that does NOT mean that you have to accept it and just deal with your fate, there is loads you can do!
How to survive 4-month-old sleep regression

  1. Create positive sleep associations: This is the time to look for opportunities to put your baby down while she’s awake and start removing negative sleep associations. A negative sleep association is anything that requires your intervention, or something which your baby cannot use independently. Typical negative sleep associations include feeding your baby to fall alsleep, or rocking, or patting to sleep. The best way to move in this direction is to not feed or rock your baby to sleep completely but rather only until they are drowsy BUT STILL awake. You can still assist but once your baby is in their cot awake give them a chance to drift off to sleep on their own. YES, they can actually do it!

    Remember that this should always be attempted in combination with the other building blocks.

  2. Make it as dark as possible where your little one sleeps. As your baby has now produced melatonin, darkness could help extend periods of sleep, both at night and in the day.  Keep their room dark throughout the nap and throughout the night. You only need to use a night light when you feed at night, but as soon as you are done put it off again.
  3. Establish a flexible routine during the day. You have a baby, not a robot, so a set routine might be difficult but you can keep an eye on your baby’s awake time to ensure they do not get overtired and overstimulated. You can also implement a SLEEP, FEED, PLAY schedule during the day. This entails that you feed your baby soon after they wake up and NOT before they need to sleep. 
  4. Ensure your little one gets adequate milk feeds during the day. Your baby’s stomach is still quite small at this age but you want to make sure that they do not skip any feeds during the day as they will make up for it at night. The SLEEP FEED PLAY schedule will assist with this, as your baby has the most energy when they wake to ensure that they take in a proper feed. 
  5. Implement a set bedtime that is not too long or too late. A bedtime routine is so simple to implement and sets the tone for the night. It helps signal to your baby that sleep is coming. Up until the age of 5 years, your child requires 11 – 12 hours of nighttime sleep. So aim for bedtime between 18h00 and 19h00.
  6. Phone your nearest consultant. Our consultants help make a custom plan for your family responsibly by incorporating all the building blocks. We also support you for 2 weeks to help you implement the plan.

Even though sleep regressions can cause sleep disruptions, the important thing to remember is that it is possible to get through it and change things to help your little one get the sleep that they want and need.